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QUESTION PERIOD — Ministry of National Defence

Military Procurement

November 1, 2023

Minister, despite the fact that our soldiers have outdated equipment that does not guarantee their safety like it should, your department is leaving billions of dollars on the table every year by failing to streamline the procurement process.

In 2021, $1 billion of the $5 billion that was allocated to the Canadian military remained on the table. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, if that trend continues, National Defence will be leaving on the table at least $4 billion of the $10.8 billion that it was allocated to buy equipment during the 2023-24 fiscal year.

Even more embarrassingly, our soldiers sometimes have to buy their own equipment. Denmark has and uses state-of-the art equipment that is made in Canada that our own soldiers don’t even have access to.

Minister, what tangible measures have you taken to address this unacceptable situation?

Hon. Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Defence [ + ]

Thank you very much, senator. It’s not a situation that I am embarrassed by. It is something that I feel a strong responsibility to fix.

I have looked carefully at military procurement processes. They have, over the past many years, become bureaucratic, overly lengthy, and the fact is that we do provide money for the procurement of the equipment and the kit and the gear that our members need and were unable to acquire. I’ve already met with the Minister of Public Services and Procurement but also the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and I am working with my deputy minister at National Defence to look at those processes and find ways in which we can expedite those procurement processes. It’s always important that we spend Canadian tax dollars carefully and create the best value for each of those dollars spent, but at the same time, the processes of that procurement — I have asked our officials to begin looking through those very carefully to find ways to expedite those matters.

I have also met with industry because they are a very important part of those procurement processes. We know that we have to make significant new investments, for example, in the manufacture of munitions, and we’re working closely with our aerospace and shipbuilding industries. We want to make sure those processes work for the Canadian Armed Forces and for Canadians.

Minister, the situation is even more embarrassing because a Wall Street Journal editorial referred to Canada as a “military free-rider in NATO” owing to its pathetic investments in defence.

Minister, you are the minister of the armed forces, but some wags are even referring to you as the “minister of the unarmed forces” because of the pathetic investments in our national defence. In addition to improving the efficiency of the procurement system, will you increase the defence budget?

Mr. Blair [ + ]

Yes, we all remember when, a decade ago, defence spending in this country fell to less than 1% of our GDP. This was one of the reasons our government came forward in 2017 with the Strong, Secure, Engaged defence policy that provided funding to increase defence spending by 70% through 2026. But we have seen that even that is not enough to provide the Canadian Armed Forces with the capabilities needed to fulfill commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, and others both at home and abroad.

We have, for example, made a commitment of $38.6 billion to NORAD modernization. That’s a lot of money, senator. It’s important that it be spent well, but we’ve made that commitment. We’ve also made contracts for the fighter jets —

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Thank you, minister.

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